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Ray (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: · Theatrical and Extended Version;
Extended Musical Performances; Audio Commentary with Taylor Hackford; Deleted Scenes; Stepping Into The Part; Ray Remembered; Theatrical trailer and previews; More Uncut Musical Performances; Filmmakers’ Journey; 28-page Bonus Photo Journal.

IT TAKES a remarkable performance to fully do justice to a remarkable man, yet that is what Jamie Foxx delivers in this candid but fascinating depiction of the late singing sensation, Ray Charles.

Foxx doesn't so much take on the persona of the legend as inhabit it, virtually living, breathing and oozing every facet of the man, from his inspirational highs to his drug-induced lows.

It is, quite simply, the performance of a lifetime that really ought to attract some heavyweight awards.

The film itself is also a mighty achievement, given that it manages to honour its subject without ever appearing too rose-tinted (a flaw which so obviously crippled the recent likes of De-Lovely and Beyond The Sea).

Directed by Taylor Hackford, the film tackles the period from 1948, when Charles was 17 and resolved to become a professional performer, through to 1979, when the singer had rightly become acknowledged as a true American icon, but intersperses proceedings with flashbacks to Charles' difficult childhood, during which he had to come to terms with his brother's death in a horrific accident and his own impending blindness (due to glaucoma).

By doing so, he avoids the temptation to make things too episodic, preferring instead to show how the memory of such young tragedy haunted him throughout his life and probably contributed to some of the darker periods.

By the time of his death at the age of 73 in 2004, Ray Charles had rightly become regarded as a musical pioneer, whose combinations of blues and gospel broke new ground in soul music (his 1954 recording of I Got A Woman is often credited with marking the beginning of the genre).

He was nicknamed 'genius' by Frank Sinatra and his friends included the likes of musical luminaries, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and The Beatles.

During his musical career, he won 12 Grammys, including the best R&B recording for three consecutive years, and produced many number one hits, including Hit The Road Jack and Georgia On My Mind. In 1988, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Never one to shy away from a new challenge, he took on many an establishment, ignoring the religious fanatics who accused him of making devil's music for the way in which he transformed gospel, and even taking on the racism which was rife in the Deep South no matter what the cost to himself.

Hackford's film chronicles all of this over the course of two and a half hours, from his crucial business relationship with Atlantic Records supremos, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, through to his stormy love life, first with his wife, Della Bea Robinson, and then his backing singers and lovers, including Mary Ann Fisher and Margie Hendricks.

And crucially, Hackford doesn't shy away from depicting the harsher side of Ray's persona, from some of his selfish business decisions and womanising through to his career-threatening drug addiction that culminated in his arrest in 1964.

It is a warts-and-all labour of love for both star and director, which marks a triumph for everyone concerned, from the music of Charles himself, which gives the film its energy, to the strong supporting performances from a strong ensemble cast (including Regina King, Kerry Washington, Richard Schiff and Curtis Armstrong).

It's little wonder that Charles, himself, gave the movie his blessing just prior to his death, for this is a masterful biopic that truly encapsulates the triumph, tragedy and heartbreak that surrounded one of music's (and life's) great inspirations.

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